Google buys Frommers, destination content in search just got a little bit more interesting

Google has made another strategic acquisition in the travel space, snapping up guidebook and online destination content publisher Frommer’s for an undisclosed fee.

Sources within Frommer’s confirmed the deal after the Wall Street Journal got whiff of the acquisition earlier today.

Terms have not been disclosed, but the purchase ends a six-month search for a buyer for the company after its owner, Wiley, put the company up for sale.

Frommer’s currently has around 70 employees around the world, but some are unclear as to whether they will be transferred and become Google staff. They are expecting to learn their fate later this week.

It is also unknown as yet as to whether Frommer’s will continue as a standalone brand, as well as if Google will effectively become a printed guidebook publisher – a massive leap from its online-only world.

The decision to buy Frommer’s comes almost 12 months to the day since Google snapped up destination review specialist in North America, Zagat, also for an undisclosed fee.

The latest acquisition once again demonstrates that Google’s cross-hairs on the travel industry are not exclusively around its fledgling flight and hotel search products.

Content to bring consumers into the world of Google (and its other “services”) is clearly another cornerstone of the search giant’s desire to provide a more fully rounded service to travellers.

Frommer’s, of course, isn’t just a consumer-facing business – it’s Frommer’s Unlimited division supplies travel content, including guides, photos and event listings, to hundreds of brands (such as KLM, Carnival, Best Western and the New York Times).

Ironically, one of Google’s biggest critics around its desire to move in on the travel industry, Expedia, takes Frommer’s content for its brand and the main site.

Fellow member of the FairSearch anti-Google lobbying group, Microsoft, also uses Frommer’s content for the MSN Travel site.

Although the value of the deal is unclear, it is very unlikely to be anywhere close to the $700 million it splashed out on ITA Software in the summer of 2010.

It is worth remembering that this is not the first time Google has bought a travel content business. It purchased destination guide startup Ruba in May 2010, but closed it almost immediately.

Some at the time questioned why Google would buy one of the dozens of young travel content startups, but Ruba was an interesting business because it had the visual search interface (pre-Pinterest bubble) behind the scenes and was known to be developing some metasearch technology of its own.

Wiley put Frommer’s up for sale in March this year, claiming the business was not part of its long-term strategy.

The company says the proceeds of the sale will be “redeployed” to its core professional businesses covering science, technical and medical publications.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



  1. Raj Chudasama

    I’m sure we will see this integrated into their new Google Hotel Finder tool. Let’s see if it can compete on TripAdvisor’s level, it has some catching up to do.

  2. Maria Laborde

    Ah, the Google monopoly… *sigh*

  3. John

    You can either look at it as Google’s expanded interest in the travel space, or just making it better. After the ITA acquisition of technology, they may need to fill some content holes to promote leisure bookings. Zagat, Frommer’s… I can’t imagine it being a cheap way to get into the Best Western’s in-room catalog 😉

  4. Bart van Poll

    As editor of an independent guidebook publisher I can’t say I agree with Karen that this is bad news for independent publishers. I’m not afraid Google would ruin the market by favoring the content they own. As Durant said: that would be very bad for their core product search.

    For us this news proves curated travel content is getting more interesting, and people are starting to understand the value of well curated travel content (and possibly realise user generated travel content is often out-of-date or unreliable). I’m happy most of the commenters (like Troy & Sheila) agree there is more than enough chances for niche travel guide publishers like us!

  5. Tania

    I believe the acquisition also had the intent to continue in their content play as travel marketers continue to evolve their KPIs to be more about the distribution of their destination content and the measurement of the engagement with that content no matter where consumers choose to be doing their travel research. Just as Travora (formerly Travel AdNetwork) has acquired Nile Guides,Localite,) Google could utilize the content beyond their search channels and begin to offer more relevant contextual targeting opportunities throughout their suite of advertising products.

  6. Robert C Gray

    Clearly location-based content is getting more valuable. Curated or expert content even more so. Both liability and quality needs drive toward something more than crowd-sourced junk. It has been clear for most of the past year that TripAdvisor and Google Places have been paying for eye-balls on their words. Congratulations.

    Frommers, Lonely Planet, and all the brands with a heritage of paper guides and web sites basically write for a planning phase, future, group experience. They miss the personal and the immediate – which is the mobile location-based experience.

    This is possibly an acquisition that will not make the journey to new media well.

    • Durant Imboden

      Well, Frommers has already made the journey to “new media” (if one can use the term “new media” to describe a medium that has been around for more than 20 years). And if Google is just looking for filler material to flesh out Local, serving up database records from Frommers guidebooks may be good enough.

      Still, it’s entirely possible that this acquisition is as much about brand and editorial infrastructure than about content. Some guidebook content lasts forever (I’ve got a Blue Guide with art and cultural text from an old Muirhead’s guide that was published early in the 10th Century), but the Frommers style of practical travel material is more perishable. Google isn’t a company of idiots, so Google’s powers-that-be are likely to have a plan that goes beyond slicing and dicing existing Frommers content and paying freelancers to travel around Elbonia or Widgetberg with notebooks in hand as they’ve been doing for the last half-century.

  7. Elisabeth Bertrand

    I think that there is point to be made that search and content are different businesses and this all brings up major anti-trust issues. However there are plenty of good travel content providers, Frommers is just one of them, interesting choice and quite costly. I just guess it must be difficult to find quality travel publishers willing to sell.

    I’m convinced consumers are addicted to emotional travel content not the guidebook fact stuff, they are quickly outdated and consumers know that. Obviously word of mouth recommendations will have great influence in decision making but so do print magazines or websites such as Travel & Leisure or The Guardian and New York Times.

    • Durant Imboden

      Let’s not forget that the primary motivation in Google’s acquisition of Frommers may simply be to have little chunks of content for Local. And $23 million isn’t “costly”–it’s actually quite cheap in the overall scheme of things (about $77,000 per Frommers guidebook, and the price doesn’t just include the guidebooks: Google is also getting the Frommers brand and editorial team).

    • Tremayne Carew Pole

      I don’t think that there are a shortage of travel publishers willing to sell – at the moment there are three or four of the major UK/US travel guides on the market (well, one less now after Frommer’s sale). Travel publishers have found the transition from print to digital really tough and have been unable to monetise their content sufficiently well. Over the last six years sales of printed guidebooks in the UK has fallen by over 40% and it doesn’t look as if it will ever recover, so much so that two large UK travel publishers have stopped or have severely cut down on printing books altogether – eBooks aren’t a great option because of the non-linear reading pattern most travel guides present.

      $23m is a reasonable price for Frommer’s – they were in trouble, they needed to be sold and it didn’t seem as if there was a buyer out there. It will be interesting to see what Google does with the brand, but their acquisition might be the wake up call travel publishers need to start exploring seriously how to create digital revenues from their content.

    • Elisabeth Bertrand

      I apologize I didn’t realize it was 23 million so suppose that’s reasonable, i had heard a completely different figure.

      I do understand why publishers find it difficult to monetize good content. As a DMC I am definitely in the market for quality editorial content if publishers could devise a way to lease it out to me at a reasonable rate.
      Unfortunately their idea of what a reasonable rate would be does not really align to current online market value which road blocks negotiation.
      We recently launched an initiative to allow freelance journalists a dividend return from their articles published on our website, some are daunted by the rates we offer but more and more younger writers are enthusiastic and help drive more traffic to their pages through social media. Works for us.

  8. jonathanwthomas

    This is both good and bad but also an opportunity for independent web publishers.

    I sincerely doubt Google wants to get into the travel writing business – that’s too granular for them. It can’t be automated or figured out with an algorithm, it will suck too many resources to stay up to date. They’ll commodotize the content on Frommer’s but it will quickly become outdated, making them irrelevant.

    This will make it harder for independent publisher in that you’ll now be competing directly with Google.

    The good will be that travel bloggers and website owners will now have to focus on their readers, building an audience and maximizing that. Generally as a website gets larger, Google becomes less and less important as other traffic sources develop. Take this as an opportunity to fill the whole Google is about to create and also break away from relying on them.

    Focus on Brand. Do you think Rick Steves cares about Google rankings? No, he’s Rick Steves.

    • Durant Imboden

      The trouble with the paranoia argument is that it doesn’t hold up under close scrutiny.

      Search on “Paris flights,” for example, and you’ll get a SERP with Google Flights data, but that SERP also has organic listings for Expedia, TripAdvisor, Air France, Kayak, and other non-Google properties on the first page.

      Just as important, there isn’t any way to buy tickets through Google Flights (or, if there is, it certainly isn’t obvious). If you click on a Google Flights result, you get more details about the selected flight, but that’s all. The purpose of the results isn’t to sell you tickets, it’s to make Google your “go to” source for search in general and flight information in particular.

      As for the Frommers acquisition, does anyone here seriously believe that Google can corner the market on travel information by slicing and dicing records from Frommers guidebook databases? Or that Google even *wants* to corner the market on travel information?

      About developing a brand: That’s all well and good, but the Web is a niche medium, and search is likely to be an important tool for publishers *and* users for a long time. Even megapublishers rely on search: Ask Wikipedia, eHow, or TripAdvisor. There’s certainly value in developing a niche brand (Cruise Critic is a great example of that), but the person who’s visiting Turkey for the first time probably doesn’t know that Tom Brosnahan’s is the place to go for Turkish travel information. That user will most likely find Tom’s site through search, and helping him do that is the core mission that enables Google Search to show ads and earn revenue.

      • Tim U

        Google is not in the travel publishing business, they’re more concerned about giving people what they’re looking for and if buying Frommers helps them with that, then good on them. As a travel publisher, I’m not worried about this as it shows that Google values independently researched professionally written content, which should be a good sign for those few websites that are completely independent with professional travel writers on the ground researching their content.

        Besides, Google will make an effort to ensure that they’re not seen as favouring their own content so current, independently researched content will find its way to the top of their search results, even if the most relevant results are direct competitors to Frommers.

        If this is a sign that Google values independently researched travel content, then maybe this is a sign that niche sites like ours can move up in the search results at the expense of the thousands of flimsy sites cobbled together by “internet marketers” using poorly paid writers on Fiverr to write about places they have never visited.

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  10. Sarah Quinlan

    Interesting. Whilst there’s plenty of scope to improve the quality & presentation of travel information, if Google is serious about providing content as well as search where does it end – eg will Google become a news service too instead of just an aggregator? From a suppliers perspective none of us can compete if Google moves into our markets so that’s a concern but that’s life, & from a consumers perspective in the short term quality is improved but ultimately it reduces choice & increases our dependency on Google. Very interesting

  11. Stuart McD

    Frommers content is already licensed out all over the place — some clients listed here:

    I assume Google will use the stuff to seed their destination guides (much as TripAdvisor pays freelancers to fill empty stubs) to that the hordes have something to build on. Frommers strength (IMO) is in the evergreen stuff — the actual listings tend to be quite weak.

    Most Frommers hotel reviews are quite short, so they’ll need some UGC meat on these new bones before they’re able to clear their own definition of thin content — but then Google’s rules are for us — not them.

    • Tim U

      Mainstream travel publishers in general have short reviews. When you condense an entire continent into 1000 pages, things are bound to be quite short. But Frommer’s do have an extensive library of content that could add some polish to Google+ local pages.

  12. Dave

    $23 million? Well that’a a bit of a bargain. Anyone know the annual turn over Frommers makes?

    Media content distribution is the clear reason why this happened. ROI on that alone must equal the purchase price.

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  14. Stuart McD

    NYTimes says they paid around US$23 million for it — which, in the scheme of things isn’t really all that much.

    • Durant Imboden

      Yes, and initial reports are suggesting that Google’s motivation is to acquire content (and possibly an infrastructure for creating) content/filler material for its Local pages. That seems more likely–and more reasonable–than the notion that Google wants to become a travel publisher.

      The fact that Google is paying only $23 million for Frommers (if we’re to believe the NY Times article) suggests that Frommers isn’t a “major strategic acquisition.”

  15. Durant Imboden

    “By acquiring the content providers, and promoting it in search, google will force providers with similar content to pay for placement.”

    Unlikely. “Paid inclusion” for content publishers would be suicidal for Google’s core product, which is Web search. Just as important, few publishers (large or small) have the margins to justify paid placement. And in any case, Google’s own products–such as Zagat or Frommers–don’t have enough pages or cover enough topics to take over the search results. (Even megasites like TripAdvisor, with 80+ million indexed pages, don’t have enough content to dominate the search results on a Web that consists of billions of pages.)

    • Jonathan Meiri

      @Durant Let me clarify. Google tends to promote its own properties, that’s why google finance appears before yahoo finance even though the yahoo property gets more traffic.

      This is what they’ve been doing with flight search and recently hotel search too.

      The traffic which was directed once to Kayak or to the OTA’s (through SEO) now gets directed to google properties.

      To account for the lost traffic the brands need to double down on SEM strategies, essentially buying keywords.

      The increased marketing spend wil drive margins down.

      • Murray Harrold

        ‘ang on, ‘ang on @Jonathan Meiri … Look, I am not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, but to me what you say is interesting. So, instead of relying on people (ie OTA’s etc) doing good SEO etc to get pushed up the rankings, Google basically buys a wide spread of outfits that sell various aspects of travel (you call them “properties”) and then push all the business towards their properties. The only way an outsider can get in – any outsider – is by shelling out a lot of money for paid advertising.

        This money will squeeze the online boys profit margins. So, (fast forward a bit, here) why promote even an airline (say) when I can sell the seat via my own (owned) website? So, even the core service providers could get pushed out – and once I have got rid of everyone else – or at least got rid of everyone else’s chance of making any reasonable amount of money by screwing them on the pay per click front, we can hike prices.

        Brilliant! Scare the sh-one-t out of many …. but Brilliant!

        • Jonathan Meiri

          @Murray you are absolutely right, it’s a brilliant strategy. The next step is managing the checkout flow, starting with mobile (where advertising model doesn’t really work).

          • Murray Harrold

            I was part right many moons ago. In the years BW (Before web) suppliers in travel were, through then then present distribution channels (mainly agents) able to divide and rule – they were able to dictate price and strategy. I thought that, with the advent of the web and thereby the assumed panacea, the supplier would be able to go direct to the customer and so bypass the (then called) middleman.

            What was missed, was that it was the right idea, but wrong target. It was not the large OTA’s that will dominate – but the coach driver, or concierge. Imagine a coach excursion in a far off land where the driver takes his bus load of money to a local arts and crafts centre or shopping place.

            Google becomes the coach driver – and everyone has to pay the driver to bring his coach load of customers to their shop rather than anyone else’s. What we have is a means of Google luring everyone onto their coach, because it is more informed, classier … whatever and unless you, the supplier, have produced enough baksheesh, you will see no customers. (For baksheesh, read advertising spend).

            Of course, the next step is to say: “Well, Mr Supplier, You need to go here and here, not there and there and you will only be able to get this much reward”

            I just get the feeling many cannot see the wood for the trees.

  16. Jonathan Meiri

    Google has made a lot of companies very profitable but providing them with free traffic. Trip Advisor with its 20mm incoming links is one example, Yelp is another example and there are many many more.

    By acquiring the content providers, and promoting it in search, google will force providers with similar content to pay for placement.

    The increased marketing spend for placement will put downward pressure on the margins for companies competing with Google content.

  17. Sheila Scarborough

    The “little guy” can certainly still compete. Control what YOU can control.

    Google does not own your email list. Google does not own your RSS subscribers. People who know the name of your website or blog will come to it via direct search (or their bookmarks.) As Matthew says above, you can certainly own long tail search for your content niche or destination niche, if your content is distinctive, helpful and can’t be found in very many other places.

    ….and we haven’t even gotten into the variety of social networks that Google does not own or control.

  18. Psycho

    Well, maybe, all’s not so bad – after all not all Google acquisitions integrate into Google ecosystem – tme will show what Frommers fate will be.

  19. Andrew

    Its a shame. Everyone thinks google is your first place to search.

    • Claude Hammond

      I think the key is not putting items next to search results. They already have that. The key is knowing who is looking for a hotel based on “Big Data” from a company like Concur and showing ads to people while they surf the internet. Think of watching a video on Youtube and seeing an ad for a hotel where you have a plane ticket booked but you don’t have a hotel yet. (or car rental). Or seeing an offer for a book from Frommers based on booked airfare. Or Zagat ratings. Making money outside of search is where it is at to grow revenues. They already have large revenues from search results with ads in ever corner of the screen. That is POWERFUL stuff!

      • Claude Hammond

        As I have read more about it I see that another area is mobile. Making money on the mobile space is the future and Google Now looks to be a good fit for this. Google Now looks like a good idea. Just give me what I need now by learning from what I have had interest in before based on where I’m at and where I’m going.

  20. Claude

    Agree with Karen point of view …..Zagat, ITA Software, Frommer’s .. Who’s next Google move? …. Maybe a travel activities meta-search engine or other landing travel stuff on mobile access.

  21. RobertKCole

    Google continues to mine the travel industry for acquisitions to gain access deep web content – getting as close as they can to the source of unique travel content:

    – ITA (air schedules, inventory & fares)
    – Zagat (Crowd-sourced leisure reviews in 100+ countries)
    – Frommers (300+ destination guidebooks)

    The interesting part is that while ITA was certainly a traditional Google technology play, Zagat & Frommers are pure branded content plays. It will be interesting to see what travel content assets Google will target next.

    Smart people + Clear strategy + Lots of Cash = Disruptive Outcome…

    • Larry Smith

      Really smart comments, and so true that the outcome will be truly disruptive.

      When unstructured social media comments & rankings are mashed up with professional opinions from Zagat & Frommers then tied to booking information and pricing from GDSs the decision making process gets moved away from the what the Travel Marketer says and shows.

      Guests become the ads, and gone are the ads pitching the guests.

  22. Matthew Barker

    Interesting development. As Karen comments, this is going to add a lot of pressure on other publishers if more travel information will now be presented direct in the search results. Perhaps they’re aiming for an expanded version of the current Wikipedia content that is sometimes displayed alongside major search terms.

    Some possible responses for brands & publishers:

    – Think more about about the long tail of your search traffic: Frommer’s is big but it doesn’t have content on *every* search term, and Google won’t be embedding content for everything. Relentlessly identify the information gaps and then fill them with new content. Over time it will add tens of thousands of uniques/month.

    – Think about the value you can bring to the table: Frommer’s content is pretty shaky in places and far from constantly updated. If you have on-the-ground expertise and knowledge, use it. If you don’t, consider buying it from someone like us.

    – Think beyond the search channel: develop creative/informative/entertaining/practical travel resources that can engage your audience on social platforms. Social interactions generate their own traffic, but also contribute to search engine visibility too. Commission influential journalists & bloggers to write for you, and piggyback on their own social reach.

    • Durant Imboden

      “Think about the value you can bring to the table.”

      Exactly. Think depth, not breadth. A zillion sites can give you two paragraphs of information on how to get from JFK to midtown Manhattan. Not many sites will give you detailed, step-by-step instructions with photos to minimize confusion and worry.

      Or find a niche that’s covered poorly, and which you’re passionate about. Accessible travel is a good example: There are huge numbers of people who are mobility-impaired in some way, and the number of wheelchair users and “slow walkers” will only increase (at least within the U.S. and Europe) as Baby Boomers and older adults represent a greater percentage of the population. Sites like Frommers, Lonely Planet, and Fodors provide some info on accessible travel, but not nearly enough. Someone who’s genuinely knowledgeable about accessible travel in key tourist destinations, such as New York or Paris or London, will have an opportunity to become the Arthur Frommer of accessible travel in those markets.

  23. Joe Buhler

    Smart strategic move by Google. They certainly are aware of the huge potential of what is still a fragmented travel vertical. Will be interesting to watch how they will make it all work together for an improved, integrated customer experience for travel research, planning and buying.

    • Troy Thompson

      What is really intriguing to think about is the insider knowledge that Google has on a company like Frommers.

      They know an immense amount about every search (via Google) that results in a click…which would be what, 40%-60% of their total traffic? Clearly, they know the content is valuable…and searchable.


      – Troy

      • Joe Buhler

        Just shows that Google seems to have a clear strategy for travel. We can only speculate about the details but the trail of evidence over the past few years is a clear indication.

        As for the DMO question, their position hasn’t really changed from the pre-web days when they were also involved in only a minority of actual destination decisions by travelers. Repeated studies across markets have clearly shown that. In the meantime the percentages have likely dropped even lower.

        • Troy Thompson

          Interesting, Joe.

          Give me some more background on the decision-making studies. If I read that comment correctly, you are saying that Google has little influence on the destination selected, but I would assume they are one of the primary evaluation tools.

          – Troy

          • Joe Buhler

            My comments were in line with your reply to Martyn about the DMO role.
            Google has a huge influence on destination choice and with this content move will even increase.

            The studies from the ’80s and ’90s – and I could bring up those from the ’70s but that would date me 🙂 – are along the lines you mentioned in your comment about DMO sites being 1 of 20. What those showed then was the equally minor involvement in consumer destination decisions even in the pre-web days.

            One of them was conducted on my watch as head of the U.S. office for Switzerland Tourism (ST) , when in response to the question of “when in your decision making process to chose a vacation destination did you contact ST?” a large majority – I don’t remember the % exactly but it was significant – replied “after I had made my decision”. Not what most DMOs want to hear!

  24. Martyn Collins

    this will have massive implications for DMOs – what’s the point of expensive destination websites when Google serves up everything the consumer needs?

    • Troy Thompson

      Good point Martyn.

      We already know that the DMO site is only 1 of 20 during the planning cycle…if the DMO is lucky. And beyond the Google/Frommers digital marriage, there are numerous content providers attempting to out-inform the DMO.

      Time to commit or quit.

      – Troy

      • Sheila Scarborough

        Yes. “Commit or quit.” Well, said, Troy.

        DMOs are either going to embrace online publishing and social communication with visitors (and learn how to knock it out of the park in ways that Google can’t match) or end up a wet spot in the road.

  25. Wandering Educators

    I agree with Karen, above. I can’t believe this would be a good thing for online travel publishing. It will be interesting to watch, for sure.

  26. Karen Bryan

    Can only see this as bad news for independent online travel publishers, with more Google content above the fold in natural search results.

    • Durant Imboden

      I doubt if this will have much impact on independent travel publishers. Google’s SERPs are already cluttered with TripAdvisor stub results, Google Places, YouTube videos, images, and whatever else. A Frommer’s result for “Widgetberg restaurants” or “Whatsitville hotels” will be just another bit of clutter.

      I think this announcement will be of much greater concern to sites like,, and–perhaps even more important– and that rely heavily on user-created content and automated keyword-driven page generation.

      More food for thought: It’s hard to imagine Google wanting to bother with a business (guidebooks, whether online or in print) that isn’t infinitely “scalable” and that offers such modest profits in its current form.

      What if Google were to create Frommers widgets that could be embedded in third-party sites, with Google offering those sites’ publishers free content and/or a share of ad revenues from within the widgets? In other words, a blogger who wrote about Stockholm, or a travel agent who was selling cruises from Stockholm, could embed AdSense-like code that would call up a keyword-targeted “factbox” widget (perhaps with links within the widget to related content, much of which might be user-generated a la TripAdvisor, on This kind of product would be highly “scalable,” and it could earn higher revenues for Google than simply licensing expensive-to-produce guidebook content to a handful of big companies like Expedia.

  27. Ciaran -

    Very interesting acquistion. I have been based in the US this year and you can see how Zagat is now fully integrated into the search results, not sure if its the case in Europe yet?? So when you search for hotels its provides the Zagat review icon and also link to content.

  28. Jennifer Turner

    It seems clear that Frommers is a powerful enough brand name for Google to keep. Why else would they have bought it? This is not evergreen content, it needs to be updated constantly (its travel after all). And saying that Google is online only is incorrect: it bought Zagats over a year ago, and that content continues to be published both online and in print.

    • Durant Imboden

      That’s a good point about the need for frequent updating. I was looking at a Frommer’s Venice page a few minutes ago, and it talked about getting around on the No. 82 vaporetto. That waterbus route hasn’t existed in years.

      In light of Google’s fondness for scalable products and user-created content (YouTube, Google Map Maker), I’d expect the Frommers brand to become more like TripAdvisor and less like Lonely Planet or Fodor’s over time.


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